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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"The re-fuelling began today"
 real 56k

The BBC's Stephen Evans
"More police protection seems likely"
 real 56k

Prime Minister, Tony Blair
"Lives are at risk"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Fuel crisis starts to bite

Police get ready to escort tankers
The NHS has been put on red alert as the disruption caused by the fuel protests across Britain worsens.

Thousands of petrol stations are dry and the shortage is having a knock-on effect on buses, trains and supermarket supplies.

Liverpool taxi drivers protest
Liverpool taxi drivers staged a rush hour protest
The impact of the protest is still spreading, with hospital operations cancelled and the threat of school closures as the country struggles with depleted fuel supplies.

Some of the country's roads are also threatened with gridlock as go slow protesters in lorries formed convoys along some motorways.

'Essential' deliveries

Some fuel has been allowed out to designated sites where the fuel can be used for "essential services".

However most of the fuel reaching petrol stations will not be available for members of the public.

Click here for a list of designated filling stations and fuel depots from the DTI

But road hauliers involved in the blockade are being urged by their own representatives to call off their protests by 1900 BST.

The Road Haulage Association is telling its members to end demonstrations because they have achieved their objective.

Tankers have been crossing blockades at refineries since Tuesday evening delivering the first drops of fuel to emergency services via 2,500 designated garages.

Health emergency

Despite the emergency supplies, Health Secretary Milburn has instructed all local health services to put into practice their emergency procedures.

Empty garages
Shell: Almost all of 1,100
Texaco: 1,350 out of 1,500
Esso: 850 out of 1,600
BP: 1,000 out of 1,500
Mr Milburn said those involved in the petrol blockades need to know that their action is hitting the emergency services hard and that the crisis in the NHS is increasing hour by hour.

Protesters based at some refineries are still persuading many tanker drivers not to cross their lines, while at others police have turned out in force to disperse them.

Over 100 police officers in Plymouth moved into the Cattedown fuel depot on Wednesday afternoon to disband protesters who have been picketing since Monday night.

Tankers leaving under police escort
Tankers leaving under police escort
Prime Minister Tony Blair has met with oil company executives and police chiefs at Downing Street in an effort to hasten the end of the crisis.

On Tuesday, he had assured the country's fuel situation would start to get back to normal within 24 hours.

Shell chief executive Malcolm Brinder said after Wednesday's meeting that oil companies would be complying the implementation of the government's emergency powers to ensure fuel is delivered to essential services.

'250m a day lost'

Businesses are also losing up to 250m a day due to the crisis, according to the London Chamber of Commerce.

Around the rest of the UK, the RAC reported traffic chaos caused by lorries and farm vehicles blocking motorway lanes on parts of the M5 and M1.

Go-slows in London were also threatening standstill in parts of the capital and many people have been unable to get to work.

Motorists queue for petrol at Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire
Forecourts could take three weeks to get back to normal
Police have been stepping up their presence around the country to enable more tankers to pass through the blockades.

Sir John Evans of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said: "We are geared up to ensure the free flow and movement of oil tankers. As barriers build we remove them."

Drivers had been offered police escorts in the cab, but on the whole protests had been peaceful, he added.

Poll boost for protests

In a telephone poll carried out for the BBC by ICM, 78% of a sample of 514 adults said they supported the protesters' action. That figure dropped to 36% if essential services were adversely affected.

The poll was carried out on 12 September, with most interviews conducted after Mr Blair said the situation should be "on the way back to normal" by Wednesday evening.

The effects of the fuel crisis have been felt far and wide.

Vital roads normally gridlocked with rush hour traffic were quiet as drivers either left their vehicles at home and used public transport, or took the day off, according to the AA.

Nineteen schools in Wales say they will have to close from Thursday, while the health service says it's struggling to cope.

And the Royal Mail warned it only had supplies for one more day of deliveries in some areas.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel crisis brings chaos to NHS
13 Sep 00 | Business
Oil companies: Heroes or villains?
13 Sep 00 | Business
Oil prices fall back
13 Sep 00 | Business
Protester hits Opec website
13 Sep 00 | Health
NHS on 'red alert'
13 Sep 00 | Europe
Europe fuel protest rolls on
13 Sep 00 | Other Sports
Sport hit by fuel crisis
13 Sep 00 | Business
TUC warns on fuel crisis
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